"The tradition will continue, and we expect business as usual," said Superintendent Stanley Sanger.
The game, which will start promptly at 10:30 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, will be played at Millers Stadium in West New York, which has been Emerson High School's home game site since the beginning of the season. They are temporarily without their home because Roosevelt Stadium, which was first erected in 1935, was demolished earlier this year to make room for what will be the site of the new Emerson High School.
The new school will feature a unique 4,000-person capacity rooftop athletic field. But it will not be completed until September of 2008.
"Even though the game is not taking place in town this year, we hope everyone will attend and keep the tradition alive," said Sanger.
"It's a bittersweet kind of feeling, but I am happy to know that we will have this new state-of-the-art facility, and we're very thankful to West New York for this alternate site," said Robert Fazio, principal of Emerson High School.
West New York's Memorial High School does not participate in a Turkey Day game of its own, so the stadium was free for Union City to use.
This will mark the 87th year of Emerson and Union Hill High School's time-honored football tradition, which began in 1919 when Union City was still two separate towns: West Hoboken and Union Hill.
The anticipation for the upcoming Turkey Day game built up last week as both high schools hosted Spirit Week.
"The site is never a concern; it doesn't diminish the game at all," said David Wilcomes, principal of Union Hill High School.
Spirit Week kicked off Wednesday for Union Hill and Thursday for Emerson. The students showed their spirit by dressing up for theme days like Funny Hat Day and Crazy Sock Day.
Decorating preparations also began as Emerson High School has draped its halls in its standard blue and white, and adorned the entranceway with a chariot and a coffin that were made over 30 years ago.
"It's really festive when you walk into the school, and it gets everybody into focus for the game," said Fazio.
Both schools are also having their annual kickoff parades and pep rallies the day before the game, where students proudly wear their school colors and support their teams.
"This year we have incorporated a canned food drive for the PERC homeless shelter, so it's all about the spirit of the game, but with a little bit of community service," said Wilcomes.
Emerson High School also hosted their own Thanksgiving food Drive this year, and collected canned goods as well as turkeys for 150 Union City families. Donations also came in from local merchants such as Goya, Shop Rite and Mi Bandera. The students will be decorating baskets and begin delivering the feasts next week.
"We start off our festivities this Thursday with Crazy Hat Day, and this Friday [according to Emerson tradition] we feed the baby bulldog and have the Baby Bull Dog Game," said Fazio.
The Baby Bull Dog Game, as it has been dubbed by Emerson, or the Little Turkey Game, as dubbed by Union Hill, is the city's annual game for the schools' J.V. Football teams.
"We've been doing that for quite a while, and it makes them feel special," said Wilcomes.
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the district will also host their annual Union Hill and Emerson High School Dinner, which will take place at the Landmark Restaurant, and each school will have their own King and Queen Dinner within the next week.
Ready for action
"We have two excellent coaches who have worked hard with the teams this year," said Sanger last week. "It's going to be a special game."
This year, expectations are high for Emerson's Bulldogs, whose season record is 4 and 5. They were last year's victors.
"This is a game of redemption for a lot of reasons; for your season, for city bragging rights, and for our seniors who have stuck together for years," said Coach Edwin Marinez of the Emerson Bulldogs. "Emerson High School has made the state playoffs for the last six years in a row. This is a smooth bunch with a lot of experience and a lot of class."
The Union Hill Hillers have a young team with a standing record of 3 and 6, and they have continued to make progress on the field.
"We have five seniors this year, so we're a young team, and we had one or two games that got away from us," said Coach Joe Rotondi of the Hillers. "We're going to play hard and hope for the best."
While everyone will be rooting for their favorites, they mostly desire a day of good sportsmanship.
"As long as it is a good, clean, and heartfelt game, then everybody is a winner," said Wilcomes. "It's good for the city and the students to have this healthy, longstanding rivalry," said Fazio. "[As a former student and player] it was the greatest feeling when we played Union Hill. It's two schools with the same philosophy, going at it on the field. And after it's done we are the best of friends."
New school, new stadium
Until the new athletic fields for Emerson are completed in 2008, the high schools will have to utilize neighboring athletic fields.
"We realize we have to go through the pains of growth [with the construction], but it will be all worth it," said Sanger.
Union City is also anticipating the completion of their newest athletic field at Jose Marti Middle School, which is due to be finished by February of 2006.
"They are putting down the new turf as we speak, so we are hoping to use their field for the 2006-2007 Thanksgiving Game," said Sanger.